Finnegans salute aging veterans
Family: Wife of 25 years, Darlene; son, Justyn, 22; daughter, Krystina, 17.
Favorite hobby or pastime: Working, traveling and being the rink announcer for Beloit Memorial High School boys hockey since 1997 and Rock County Fury girls hockey. Also enjoys doing anything that can put a smile on someone's face.
Favorite movie: "Papillion" (drama) and "Something about Mary" (comedy)
Role model: Parents, Barb and Cy Finnegan. "Truly great people."
Favorite quote: "Anything that ever came from Winston Churchill's mouth."
Three words that best describe you: "Fat, bald and ugly."
Something your friends may not know about you: "I find it very easy to accept criticism and very difficult to accept praise."
Family: Kimberly, wife of 18 years; daughter, Abby, 12; twin sons, Andrew and Zach, 16.
Favorite hobby or pastime: Watching sports and coaching baseball
Favorite movie: "Brian's Song"
Favorite book: No spare time for books. Reads "Sports Illustrated."
Role model: Father, Cy Finnegan.
Favorite quote: "It's all about you!"
Three words that best describe you: Caring, helpful, easy-going.
Something your friends may not know about you: "Very emotional person and a 'softy' just like my father."
Naysayers said it couldn't be done.
But brothers Mark and John Finnegan knew they had a worthy cause. They asked people for money to take World War II vets to Washington, D.C.
Public response was overwhelming.
More than 570 donors gave almost $90,000 in two months.
"It really struck a chord," Mark said. "It was an incredible regional effort. We had donations for wheelchairs, oxygen and food. We also had 59 volunteers, who paid their own way."
In May, the Finnegans made it possible for more than 120 men and women in the Stateline area to visit the National World War II Memorial and other sites.
More than a dozen trained medical personnel accompanied the aging soldiers and women who worked in factories to support the war effort.
If you doubt the impact of the four-day motor tour, just listen to 86-year-old Al Kath, who was moved to tears by the experience.
"The memorial really got to my heart," the Janesville veteran said. "The trip meant closure for me as a prisoner of war. We fought for freedom, and a lot of my buddies never came home."
During one of Europe's coldest winters in 1944, Kath faced the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge. The Germans captured Kath and thousands of other U.S. soldiers in a surprise assault.
"Al Kath exemplifies the whole generation," Mark said, explaining that every World War II veteran has an important story. "These veterans are passing away at more than 1,000 per day. Each one has a story inside, and too many are taking them to their graves."
Mark, his wife, Darlene, and John started a nonprofit group called VetsRoll to make the trip happen. Their effort is not connected to Honor Flight, which also takes vets to Washington to visit war memorials. Honor Flight uses planes, which go and return on the same day. The Finnegans own RV Center in South Beloit and used charter buses and motor homes. The idea was to give veterans a comfortable ride, Mark said.
"Many of these veterans cannot fly," said Dick Kath, a trip volunteer and son of Al Kath. "I think it is so important that these soldiers get to see their memorial."
In addition to visiting war memorials, veterans saw the Flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C. On the return trip, state troopers escorted the caravan all the way from Ohio to Wisconsin. Hundreds of people turned out at a Beloit church, where they were welcomed home in style.
"It was very emotional," John said. "They were very thankful, and there were a lot of tears. They couldn't believe someone was spending the time and the effort to make this happen."
You might think that organizing one trip, with hundreds of details, would be enough. But the Finnegans are only gearing up. They are planning another trip May 16-19 and will expand it to include Korean War vets.
"They are the forgotten veterans," Mark said. "No one has done anything for them."
Some 200 vets and 100 volunteers will make the powerful journey.
Mark and John couldn't be more pleased. They continue to be inspired by their father, Cy, who fought in the South Pacific in World War II. Cy died in 2000.
"We know he's looking down on us," Mark said.
"We know he approves."